Friday, August 9, 2013

Parshat Shofetim - My Horse for a Kingdom?

The other day I heard a program about the charismatic general Abdel Fatah el-Sisi who most believe is the one in charge in Egypt since that country's recent change in government. The program spoke about how popular a figure he is and the celebrity status he enjoys, at least for now. In our portion this week, Shoftim, we read the passage concerning the possibilities of a mortal king being set up to rule the Jewish People. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 detail the conditions for choosing a king and how he should rule. One gets the impression that the Torah wants to limit the power of the king; he can't have too many horses for example (either for military campaigns or else as a sign of his status). The Sefer ha-Chinuch, a book that lists all 613 mitzvot in the order in which they appear finds this to be Positive Commandment #173. However, there are others who argue that it is not a commandment at all, but rather an option God gives out of consideration for human nature - the Jews may one day wish to have a king like other people do and so they may provided these rules are followed. The idea behind this view is to teach that our leaders must always be of the sort who remember their responsibilities and do not let their position go to their heads. It is all to easy to be acclaimed by the masses, as is the case for the Egyptian general, but it can also be all to easy to make mistakes when that happens as well. Remembering one's duty to the people one leads, and to the mission and values that unite that people are important in the long run. Important lessons for kings of old, new Egyptian dictators, and all of us who seek to take on roles of responsibility. We must remember that leading is ultimately about serving - a lesson the Torah makes clear: the king remains a servant of God. So must we. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

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